Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to see Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley of Bhutan speak at Columbia University as part of the annual World Leader's Forum. The title of his speech was “Well-being, Happiness, and Leadership.”
While Thinley's speech was certainly informed by Bhutan's unique governing philosophy of Gross National Happiness, he focused on the nature of leadership and five complex global problems that will require innovative solutions in the upcoming century:
*The explosion of populations, especially the elderly who are being increasingly marginalized. Thinley believes everyone should age without the “fear of insecurity or loneliness.”
*The fast rate of bio-diversity loss, caused by deforestation, monoculture farming, and climate change. As the dominant species, Thinley argues that humans have the burden of Earth stewardship.
*The persistent reliance on fossil fuels and unchecked consumption. To solve this problem we need to understand two things: it is possible to live well with less, and markets, which dictate energy usage, are fundamentally near-sighted, i.e. there are no markets for measures of return on the time-scales of 100's of years.
*Relentless growth of weapons industry. The 19th century logic of “security” and military alliances needs to be replaced by a new consciousness of a single planet.
*The combination of unhealthy lifestyles and a lust for longer life. This contradictory juxtaposition is leading to rising health care costs.
He ended his speech with a few simple ideas to generally increase happiness.
*Restructure of the 9-5 40-hour work week to a 25 hour work-week of intensely focused and productive activities. This would help spread employment and increase physical/mental health.
*The contemplation of the impermanence of self and others.
Listen, Thinley himself admitted that some of his ideas have components of naivete. But that's beyond the point. I think he's identified the long term issues facing the world.
Of course, the elimination of poverty should be the utmost priority. Thinley emphasized this, saying that he felt no pride in Bhutan's achievement of Millennium Development Goals, given that other countries have not yet made the same progress.
It was refreshing to hear a world leader with a sense of humility and compassion for other nations. Thinley has come to understand that short-term, greed-based approaches to governance and development are out-dated and ultimately self-defeating. Going forward, we're going to need a more holistic, far-sighted and cooperative approach. The longer it takes to adopt this philosophy, the more suffering humanity will endure.